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Hoskins wrong about hospital closures

Posted: April 28, 2017

BY SUE-ANN LEVY, TORONTO SUN

Health Minister Eric Hoskins got rather miffed with me Tuesday when I suggested his government was simply reinventing the wheel by closing hospitals on the one hand and offering $9 billion in this year’s budget to construct new ones.

In their nice glossy 2017 budget book, the Liberals claim the $9 billion will be used over the next 10 years to support “major hospital projects” across the province — in other words mega-hospitals — as part of their investments in “service transformation.”

(That’s code blue for gutting health care, most specifically community care, in the province.)

The budget book says 18 new mega-hospitals are under construction; another 16 in the planning process.

“I think you are thinking of the Conservatives who closed more than two dozen hospitals,” Hoskins told me, denying the Liberals have closed any hospitals.

“Name one hospital I’ve closed,” he said, his normal smooth delivery seemingly ruffled.

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition — who has been actively advocating against hospital closures for years — said the Liberals have closed the hospital in Shelburne, in Burk’s Falls and three hospitals (including the Finch campus at Jane and Finch) for the new Humber River Hospital.

She says the newly announced hospital in Niagara will replace five and in Windsor all existing community hospitals will be replaced with one hospital as well.

Perhaps Hoskins missed this, as well, but Branson Hospital (a campus of North York General hospital) is slated to close in June and a fight is on, led by Councillor James Pasternak, to keep it open.

“He’s absolutely wrong,” said Mehra.

Just a few minutes before he challenged me, Hoskins told a reporter from friendlier media that he’s working very hard to make sure services are maintained at community hospitals.

(See note about all the community hospitals being shut tight above.)

As for the hype around increasing operating budget funding to hospitals by 3% per year, Mehra said the reinvestment will only barely meet inflation (at 2%) after a “decade of hospital cuts” amounting to billions of dollars.

She says every advocate in the system feels at least 5% is needed just to try to keep pace.

“There is no money to restore services (from 10 years of cuts),” Mehra said. “What this means is that patients will remain lying on stretchers in hallways and frail seniors will continue to be kicked out of hospitals.

“All the suffering we’re seeing now will continue,” Mehra added.

And here I thought I heard Finance Minister Charles Sousa say — and more than once — that not only does the Liberal government have everyone covered, but the province has “strong universal health care.”

Mehra said the only bright spot in the budget is the new pharmacare program which will give free coverage for “all needed drugs” to everyone 24 and under — a costly manoeuvre (no doubt to win the 18+ vote) at up to $500 million a year.

The trouble is, the same extensive coverage is not being provided to “working people” from 25-65 years who are sick and require drugs — particularly cancer, Crohn’s disease and HIV drugs, she said.

Dr. Kulvinder Gill, a pediatrician and president of Concerned Ontario Doctors, agreed the 2017 budget will only create a “dent” in what’s required in health care.

“This is simply a drop in the bucket,” she said.

She said conspicuously absent was funding to front-line care, especially considering doctors are now in their fourth year without a contract and have been treated like dirt by the Kathleen Wynne Liberals.

Gill noted there are currently one million patients in the province without a family doctor.

“There were no details provided on how they intend to decrease the wait lists without funding doctors,” she added, noting several physicians have announced this week their intentions to leave the province.

“There was lots of smoke and mirrors, a lot of numbers thrown around,” she said. “Frankly after the gutting of the health-care system, cosmetic changes will not be enough.”

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